I have achieved my seventy years in the usual way: by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else.
At the doctor, I’d exhausted my list of complaints: right ear pain, waking headaches, sore right shoulder, lump on left wrist, knee and hip stiffness, warty eruptions on the skin. To all of it, Dr. Hunter more or less said, yeah, that happens, suggested ibuprofen and exercise or aspirin and rest. She looked bored, ready to wrap things up. But I didn’t feel like I’d had my money’s worth yet
“And,” I added, stalling, “I just keep getting older: what’ve you got for that?”
“This is your lucky day,” she exclaimed, looking up from the computer screen. “If you’d been here yesterday I couldn’t have helped you, but this morning, on my way to work there was ice, I slid into a ditch and when I stepped out of my car, my foot landed right on the fountain of youth.”
She’s a smartass, my doctor. That’s half why I keep her.
“Look,” she said briskly, “I can show you people twenty years younger than you, who are not half as healthy.” In other words, you got nothing to bitch about, so why are you in here taking my precious time?
Oh, yeah? Two can play that compare and contrast game. Forget your potato patients. Who cares about them? They do what, sit on the couch and eat bags of chips every night? How about Susan Sarandon and Tina Turner? Or—let’s get personal—Carole Kilmartin, my high school classmate, who, at the fiftieth reunion had zero body fat, played tennis daily and looked thirty-five. How sorry do I look next to those old broads? Let’s get even more personal. How do I compare to Pat Dubrava at forty? Pathetic. I’ve seen photos.
Until now, I’ve been blessed with good health, so issues my doctor sees as minor ailments are alarmingly major to me. I expect to hear the headache is due to a brain tumor and we’ll just cut that out for you, not—oh, lots of people have headaches for lots of reasons. Have you tried changing your pillow? I expect to be given a cure for the shoulder, not—try staying off the computer. Stay off the computer? You know I’m a writer, right?
I leave with a mix of frustration and renewed confidence A few days from seventy, it dawns on me that there may not be any cure for these aches and pains. They may have no cause beyond normal decline of the body, in which case they’ll just get worse. That’s the frustrating part. The confidence returning part is because a) I apparently don’t have cancer yet and b) after moving my leg around to check my hip, Dr. Hunter says, “I see people fifty years old who don’t have half this range of motion.” I strut out of there feeling pretty cocky. Check out my range of motion, slackers.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting this seventieth birthday. The sixties was a wishy-washy decade: neither middle-aged nor old, too young to retire but ready to quit, not venerable enough to get respect but too past prime to be taken seriously. Seventy, though, that’s got clout. According to a recent AARP survey, people believe old age begins at seventy. Of course, it depends on whom you ask. Kids think forty’s old. And everyone over forty fools themselves into believing they look younger than their contemporaries. When I see someone in my age group, I usually think smugly, “Wow, he really shows the wear and tear, doesn’t he?” If I see Carole Kilmartin, Class of ’62, I figure she’s made a pact with the devil and blot her out of my mind.
Seventy is a significant peak from which our perspective lengthens. That horrible first marriage, those disastrous job choices? How tiny, how far away they are! From seventy, you can evaluate events more sensibly. (You can. Doesn’t mean you will.) But let’s keep this septuagenarian business in perspective too. Reaching seventy in fair shape makes me a bit arrogant. You’d think I’d won a blue ribbon. You’d think it meant something. It does. It means I didn’t die yet. Woo-hoo.
According to the Life Expectancy Calculator on the Social Security website, people my age live to, on average, 87. The good lord willing, that’s just seventeen more years. I better get busy. I have writing to do. This difficult, satisfying work of being writer and translator is something I’ve just begun in earnest. It doesn’t pay and no one cares if I do it or not. That doesn’t matter. But don’t you try it. Mark Twain was right: what cures one person is poison for another.